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Jesus, Our Sabbath Rest

[Mark 2:23-28] One Sabbath [Jesus] was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”


Jesus, Our Sabbath Rest

“I’ll do it all; I’ll do it all myself; and, no, I don’t need a break.” I don’t need help, and I don’t need rest. Being overly busy, or doing it all ourselves, is a point of pride – a red badge of courage. But it’s not God-pleasing. It’s not God’s will.

We are limited creatures. God could’ve created us with no need for sleep, no need for rest. But He did not. God created day and night, waking and sleeping, working and Sabbath. Part of accepting God as God is accepting how He has created us and accepting what limited beings we really are.

It’s our sin-fallen nature that does not want to accept God’s help or rest. Our sinful nature wants to be God and to do it all. Humility (which is a virtue; pride is not), admits we need sleep and rest, food and drink – and God to be our provider.

So, when God created man, He created a Sabbath for man. A day of rest. Which is needed even more since our fall into sin, because we are even more limited. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work” – nor were you to make anyone else do any work. You were commanded to rest and to give rest. [Deuteronomy 5:13-14]

So, what’s going on in today’s Gospel reading? Jesus is walking with His disciples through the grainfields on the day of rest, and they are hungry. The need not to work and the need to eat collide. So, the disciples pick heads of grain and eat.

The Pharisees object. What did the Law forbid on the Sabbath? Among other things, you were forbidden from harvesting. And technically… that’s what the disciples were doing, right? The Pharisees also objected when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath – because healing is work.

The Pharisees took a command which was meant to give man rest and, instead, applied it in such a way that it became a greater burden than labor itself. The Sabbath command became a burden on the conscience instead of rest for the body.

Jesus rebukes and reminds them with the words, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” And Jesus tells them further – speaking of Himself – “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Declaring Himself to be God.)

What rest is most needed? What rest does the Lord of the Sabbath give? And when and how does He give it? What is the Sabbath for us today, now that the Lord of the Sabbath has come and become our Savior?

A few weeks back, we had, for our Old Testament reading, the whole Ten Commandments from Exodus 20:1-17. At that time, we heard a little about the difference between ceremonial law in the Old Testament and the moral law in the Old Testament, and in all Scripture.   

The ceremonial law was the worship law of the Old Testament. It was temporary, in force only until the time of Christ, and it dealt with times and seasons and foods and Sabbath days. When Christ came, the real substance of the matter was now here and those ceremonial, symbolic aspects of the Law were laid aside.

But the moral law – the commandments regarding what is always right and wrong, in relation to God and our neighbor – that law is forever.

The commandment – “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” [Deuteronomy 5:12; Exodus 20:8] – has both ceremonial and moral aspects to it. That we must rest is the moral command. And that we find our rest in God’s holiness is the moral command.

That we must do this on the seventh day of the week – Saturday – was ceremonial and applied until the Christ would come and give us our true rest, which He has done.

Jesus said it: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” [Matthew 11:28-30]. We come, not merely to a day, but to the Lord of Sabbath rest Himself who gives us rest from the labors of body and soul.

Jesus has delivered to us the permanent thing – the rest He labored for, for you – and now that the permanent has come, the temporary has passed away. That the Sabbath command is no longer about a specific day of the week, like in the Old Testament, is made clear enough in Scripture:

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” [Colossians 2:16-17]. “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” [Romans 14:5].

Also, it’s clear in Scripture that the very first Christians, during the time of the Apostles, were gathering for worship on the first day of the week, not the seventh: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread…” (a reference to the Lord’s Supper) [Acts 20:7; Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 10:16; Matthew 26:26]. And, “On the first day of every week…” they were to collect their offering [1 Corinthians 16:2].      

The earliest Christians worshipped on Sundays, the first day of the week, to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus [Mark 16:2]. Their Sabbath rest was from the Lord of the Sabbath Himself, as is ours today. “Come to Me, and I will give rest to your soul.” 

What is the rest Jesus gives you, and, lastly, how does Jesus give it?

In Exodus 20:8-11, the Sabbath command is based on the days of creation: God created the world in six days and on the seventh day rested from His work, and the people were to do the same.

In Deuteronomy 5:12-15, the command to rest is based on God’s work of redemption – when He redeemed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and, thereby, gave them rest – “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.”

Rest from the labor of their slavery. Jesus is now your Redeemer who has redeemed you and given you rest from the greatest slavery – your sin-fallen nature’s slavery to sin and disobedience. Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” – “slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness” [John 834; Romans 6:19]. But “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” [John 8:36].

Jesus labored as a slave, suffering under the burden of your sin which He made His own. Jesus made the sins of the world – and your sins – His and worked them off, paid the price, worked off the debt, by the labor of His sufferings and the payment of His life.

Jesus suffered the curse for sin, cursed by God in your place [Galatians 3:13; Deuteronomy 21:23], to free you from the eternal labor and burden. You are not now permitted to “do it on your own” between you and God. God has commanded rest – that you find your rest in Jesus, who is risen from the dead and received into heaven.

Jesus is your Sabbath rest – and there is an eternal day of rest into which you will enter through Him alone – “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” [Hebrews 4:9-10].

Your soul’s labor against sin, death, and the devil has ended in Jesus. He has won the battle and gives rest to your soul – and forgiveness and peace to your conscience – now, and in heaven.

To rest in Jesus is not optional. It is commanded. And, more than that, it is promised.

How does He give it? You are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus. All He did is yours. As your rest fades each week, He restores it each week through His saving Word preached, through His Word taught, and through His Supper given and received.

His holy Word for your rest is given for you not only one day per week, but every day – and weekly in this gathering. Where His Word is, there He is as food and rest for soul and body.

This rest, given in the morning here, is more restful than any day of sleeping in – and nothing adds to your tiredness more than going without it. Going tired and on your own is not God’s will for you. His rest is commanded and given in Jesus. So, let’s receive the Lord’s rest as often as it’s given. Amen.

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